Question by omar khaled: How did the Bolshevik revolution and the communist rule affect Russian literature?
How is Russian literature both timeless and affected by historical/political events?
what the impact of both the 19th century Bolshevik Revolution and Communist rule on the Russian writers and literature?
Answers and Views:
Answer by captain fantastic
Censorship and attempts to control the content of art did not begin with the Soviets, but were a long-running feature of Russian life. The Tsarist government also appreciated the potentially disruptive effect of art and required all books to be cleared by the censor. Writers and artists in 19th century Imperial Russia became quite skilled at evading censorship by making their points without spelling it out in so many words. However, Soviet censors were not easily evaded.
Socialist Realism was a product of the Soviet system. Whereas in market societies professional artists earned their living selling to, or being commissioned by rich individuals or the Church, in Soviet society not only was the market suppressed, there were few if any individuals able to patronise the arts and only one institution – the State itself. Hence artists became state employees. As such the State set the parameters for what it employed them to do. What was expected of the artist was that he/she be formally qualified and to reach a standard of competence. However, whilst this rewarded basic competency, it did not provide an incentive to excel, resulting in a stultification similar to that in other spheres of Soviet society.
The State, after the Congress of 1934, laid down four rules for what became known as “Socialist Realism”:
That the work be:
1. Proletarian: art relevant to the workers and understandable to them.
2. Typical: scenes of every day life of the people.
3. Realistic: in the representational sense.
4. Partisan: supportive of the aims of the State and the Party.
Maxim Gorky urged that one obtained realism by extracting the basic idea from reality, but by adding the potential and desirable to it, one added romantism with deep revolutionary potential; “critical realism” had been appropriate for older, corrupt societies, but criticism of society must now give way to optimism. Literature filled with “positive heroes” that were frequently extremely tedious.
Maxim Gorky’s novel Mother is usually considered to have been the first socialist realist novel. Gorky was also a major factor in the school’s rapid rise, and his pamphlet, On Socialist Realism, essentially lays out the needs of Soviet art. Other important works of literature include Fyodor Gladkov’s Cement (1925), Nikolai Ostrovsky’s How the Steel Was Tempered and Mikhail Sholokhov’s two volume epic, Quiet Flows the Don (1934) and The Don Flows Home to the Sea (1940). Yury Krymov’s novel Tanker “Derbent” (1938) portrays Soviet merchant seafarers being transformed by the Stakhanovite movement.
Socialist realism had a significant impact on art in Russia and elsewhere. In Russia, the works of authors such as Gorky, Mayakovsky, Sholokhov, Tvardovsky, Fadeyev, Leonov, and many other writers became established classics, achieved worldwide renown, and have become a firm part of the world’s cultural heritage. Socialist realism was credited for helping talent to develop and art to flourish in many forms and for making it more accessible to the masses.
The negative aspect of Socialist realism was the restrictions imposed on artistic expression. For example, Mikhail Bulgakov wrote his work, The Master and Margarita, in secret, despite earlier successes such as White Guard. Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago was refused publication in the USSR, due to its independent minded stance on the socialist state. By the time of his death from lung cancer in 1960, the campaign against Pasternak had severely damaged the international credibility of the U.S.S.R. He remains a major figure in Russian literature to this day. Furthermore, tactics pioneered by Pasternak were later continued, expanded, and refined by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and other Soviet dissidents.
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